January 13, 2012: Cruise Ship Costa Concordia Wrecks off Isola del Giglio, 32 Die

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A Brief History

On January 13, 2012, the woes of the cruise lines of the world became as bad as they can get when a giant Italian cruise ship was wrecked off the coast of Isola del Giglio in the Tyrrhenian Sea (part of the Mediterranean Sea to the West of Italy) taking 32 lives in the accident.  The ship, Costa Concordia, was operated by a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines called Costa Crociere and had only been in service for 6 years when she was run aground and lost, joining a long list of miserable cruise ship experiences in recent years that have dominated the news.  (Just this week a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was forced to return early to port because of 475 passengers becoming ill with the Norovirus.)  Fires, murders, passengers overboard, sickness, malfunctions of equipment and other maladies have plagued the cruise ship industry, though the actual loss of a ship is still highly unusual.  (Note: Dr. Zar and Major Dan have cruised on Carnival Cruise Lines and found the experience to be pretty good overall, with no sickness, danger, or malfunctions. The worst parts of the cruise were getting on board the ship and getting off the ship.)

Digging Deeper

The Costa Concordia was a large cruise liner, stretching 962 feet long and spanning a beam of 116 feet 6 inches.  A massive 114,147 gross tons, the luxury ship carried 3780 passengers (max) and a crew of 1100.  Capable of exceeding 20 knots, the ship drew 26 feet of water and was powered by electric motors supplied by diesel generators.

Costa Concordia in Majorca, Spain on 28 September 2011.  Photograph by Jean-Philippe Boulet.

On the fateful night, the ship was embarked on a weeklong cruise when the ship strayed too close to the shore at Isola del Giglio and struck a major rock formation, causing a huge hole in the port side of the ship.  (The gash in the side of the Titanic caused by the infamous iceberg was nearly 300 feet long.)  Costa Concordia lost power and immediately started taking on major amounts of seawater, with 3 compartments flooded.  Without propulsion and with her electricity out, the ship was helpless to cope with the damage.  The liner began to list to port and was blown to the island where she went aground with her starboard side underwater resting on the seafloor.

The actions of the Captain and crew became a subject of severe criticism later when investigators found the order to abandon ship was not given until an hour had elapsed, despite the obvious extreme danger of people remaining aboard a helpless ship in imminent danger of sliding into a trough and going under completely.  Additionally, evacuation of the ship took an agonizingly slow 6 hours in spite of maritime regulations that require ships be completely evacuated within 30 minutes of the order to abandon ship.  The actual passenger count at the time of the accident was 3206 passengers and 1023 crew members.  On top of the ineptitude evidenced by the grounding of the ship and the botched evacuation, the Captain left the ship before many of the passengers!  In fact, when the crew and passengers had completed disembarking the ship, 300 passengers were actually left aboard the stricken vessel to fend for themselves.  Those passengers were later rescued via helicopter.  Incredibly, a crewman and 2 passengers were rescued more than a day later from inside the ship where they had been trapped.

Rescued passengers huddle ashore.  Photograph by Rvongher.

Along with the 32 passengers that died, another 64 people suffered non-fatal injuries and another person was killed on the salvage crew.  The ship was eventually set right side up and refloated, but damages exceeded $2 billion, more than triple the original cost of the ship!  After being towed to Genoa, the scrapping of the once beautiful ship began, and the Costa Concordia was no more. The ship had been insured for a mere $30 million!  Costa Cruises (English version of the name) company offered passengers a relatively paltry settlement of only 11,000 euros apiece, an offer only about a third of the passengers accepted.

Captain Schettino and his First Officer (second in command) were criminally charged with manslaughter for the accident and for abandoning the passengers.  A video of the bridge during the chaos following the grounding revealed the Captain offering a glib, “Whatever…” (though in Italian) when he was told passengers were getting into the lifeboats.  To make matters worse for the beleaguered Captain, investigators found traces of cocaine in his hair.  The investigation also found that the ship had been carrying a large amount of cocaine for the Mafia.  Other ship’s officers and company executives were also charged criminally.  Early indications were that the Captain had slowed the ship in order to finish his dinner before completing the sail by of the island, and that the ship was sailing too close to the island to give passengers a better view.

Deviation (from 20:30 UTC) leading to collision (20:45 UTC) and grounding (22:00 UTC).  Map by Soerfm.

Ultimately 5 people were convicted of manslaughter and other negligent crimes, including 2 company executives and 3 of the ship’s officers.  Sentences ranged from just under 3 years in prison to 1 year.  The helmsman was found to have steered the wrong way, even though the Captain had given the proper direction.  The Captain was convicted of various crimes and given a sentence of 16 years in jail.  The trial had revealed the Captain had his mistress aboard the ship, a woman whose presence on the bridge at the time of the accident contributed to the confusion and pandemonium.  Other testimony was offered that claimed the Captain tried to get officers on the bridge to lie about the cause of the wreck, claiming the ship had been in a blackout condition.  The Costa Cruises company itself avoided being put on trial, though a million-euro fine was levied against the company (small potatoes compared to $2 billion salvage cost and the loss of the ship!).  Of course, many of the passengers and their families have outstanding lawsuits against the cruise line.  Maritime regulations were changed to disallow cruise ships from “saluting” people on shore by sailing close to the shore to give onlookers a thrill.

Questions for Students (and others):  Have you ever been on a sea cruise?  If so, how was your experience?  Would you consider going on a cruise in the future?  Where would you like to take a cruise?  Have you heard about the various disastrous cruise experiences of the past few years?

Profile of stranded wreck with surrounding oil booms.  Diagram by Rwxrwxrwx.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Ananias, Dean, Et al. S.O.S. Spirit of Survival: One Family’s Chilling Account of the Costa Concordia Disaster. Bird Street Books, 2013.

Davis, Andrea. Survival Was Only The Beginning: A Costa Concordia Story. Ballyhoo Publishing, 2013.

Douglas, Daniel. Titanic to Costa Concordia: A radical view at SOLAS and its position in safety and management in the twenty first century maritime world. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2016.

Smith, Benji. Abandoned Ship: An intimate account of the Costa Concordia shipwreck. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Rvongher of the Costa Concordia after dawn with lifeboats at shore, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  You are free:

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.